A shiver-inducing tribute to the emptiness of the Jazz age
Posted By Daisy
‘I hope she’ll be a fool – that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool’. (Daisy Buchanan)
The film is a perfect tribute to the booze and party orgy of the 1920’s prohibition era – all dancing girls with green eye-shadow, and champagne sloshing in vintage coupes, and a thousand tinsel threads raining down upon the party goers who dance a super energetic Charleston.
But behind the great American dream is dirt and poverty. The Valley of Ashes is a no-man’s industrial wasteland between Manhattan and Long Island, its people bored and black with soot, perpetually watched by Dr TJ Eckleberg’s tarnished spectacles on a faded advertising hoarding. Myrtle is exactly as I had pictured her, and the scene in her rented apartment is in stark contrast to Gatsby’s polished parties; grubby feather pillows split open and stick to sweaty bodies, couples have sex in an adjoining bedroom, and drugs are passed from tongue to tongue and washed down with whisky. As he gazes down onto the street below, Nick realises he neither belongs here nor in West Egg.
Luhrmann ensures that none of the women in the film are portrayed as being classically beautiful – Myrtle (I didn’t even realise it was Isla Fisher) is a pathetic, sleazy creature with an artificial painted rosebud mouth, and Daisy (Carey Mulligan) is ten-a-penny pretty. The dancing women are older and plumper than expected, and Jordan Baker (Elizabeth Debicki) the young golf professional is a sexless beanpole in her long dresses. I like Daisy in the beginning. She’s bright and breezy, floating through life as if behind a gauze curtain, her money shielding her from reality. Gatsby tries to mirror this by smothering her with silk shirts in an odd display of carelessness, but ultimately he tries too hard.
Luhrmann makes the heat another character in the room at the Plaza hotel, irritating everyone and niggling already-fraying tempers. Cigars and cigarettes sizzle as they are lit and sweat trickles on the back of necks as a busboy chips ice off a huge block to fill the cut-glass whiskey tumblers. For the first time, Gatsby, in his creased pink pin-striped suit, loses control and reveals his true self, if only for a moment, a lock of Brilliantined hair tumbling onto his forehead as he rages at Tom and Daisy and his inability to be a part of their world.
Luhrmann also portrays Nick’s otherness perfectly - he is always behind curtains, listening at partially closed doors or watching from above, always on his own unless someone needs a favour from him.
I watched the film with a continuous nausea, from the swooshing camera pans to Gatsby’s roaring yellow motor car squashing water melon on the road, and the crowds of party-goers swaying in their cars as they roar their way up Gatsby’s lit-up driveway.
I’m going to see it again next week – this time in 3D. I can’t wait.
Time for a re-read, I think.